Leo Varadkar has stepped down.

Personal and political decision for Varadkar

Speculation is now rife as to who will take over as Taoiseach and the Fine Gael leader after the shock announcement that Leo Varadkar is stepping down.

Making the announcement yesterday, Wednesday, flanked by some of his party colleagues, Varadkar said his decision was both personal and political. The news comes a couple months before the next local and European elections and more than a year before the next general election.

An Tánaiste Micheál Martin said he did not anticipate Mr Varadkar's decision and added that the coalition will continue in office, even with Mr Varadkar standing down.

Speaking during the unexpected announcement, Mr Varadkar said: “When I became party leader and Taoiseach back in June 2017, I knew that one part of the leadership is knowing when the time has come to pass on the baton to somebody else and then having the courage to do it. That time is now so I am resigning as president and leader of Fine Gael effective today (Wednesday) and will resign as Taoiseach as soon as my successor is able to take up that office.

“I’ve asked our party general secretary and executive council to provide for the new leader to be elected in advance of the Ard Fheis on 16 April thus allowing for a new taoiseach to be elected before the Dáil resumes after the Easter break.”

He said he knew his decision would come as a surprise to many and a disappointment to some and he hoped people would understand his decision while adding that he knew others would cope with the decision “just fine”.

“That is the great thing about living in a democracy,” he said.

He continued: “There is never a right time to resign high office however this is as good as time as any – Budget 2024 is done, negotiations have not yet commenced on the next one, the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are working again and our trading relationship with the UK in the post-Brexit era is settled and stable.”

He said: “My reasons for stepping down are both personal and political. I believe this Government can be re-elected and I believe my party Fine Gael can gain seats in the next Dail. I believe the re-election of this three party government will be the right thing for the future of our country…After careful consideration and some soul searching, I believe that a new taoiseach and a new leader will be better placed than me to achieve that, to renew and strengthen the team, to focus our message on policies, to drive implementation and after seven years in office, I don't feel I'm the best person for that job anymore. There are loyal colleagues and good friends contesting the local and European elecetions and I want to give them the best chmance possible and I think they have a better chance under a new leader. I am standing aside in the absolute confidence that the country and economy are in a good place and that my colleagues in Government…will continue to work hard for the nation’s best interests.”

On a personal level, he said he enjoyed being taoiseach and learned a lot and met so people he would never have met if he wasn’t the taoiseach.

He was elected by Dáil Éireann to the role for the second time in December 2022, having previously served in the role from 2017 to 2020. He served as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment from June 2020 to December 2022. He was appointed the Leader of Fine Gael having been elected to the position by the Party’s Electoral College system in 2017.